Our obligation as developers

There’s no doubt that semantics are an oft-spoken about topic, especially recently. But let’s address a different issue.

As the HTML5 spec continues to introduce new elements, the debate rages about the value, or lack thereof, of implementation in our own code. In Divya Manian’s recent article on Smashing (first link above), she encourages developers to stop worrying about the minute details of the semantic meaning in elements, and I fully agree with her. However, as I read through the comments on Divya’s article, and many others like it since then, where developers are discussing semantic value, I began to notice a particular sentiment cropping up a bit too frequently for my liking. Paraphrased, these comments would read something like this:

“Semantic value or not, it seems like a lot of unnecessary effort as a developer to learn what all these new elements and attributes mean when we should be focusing on creating work.”

Or, even more alarming:

“The whole HTML5 spec seems bloated and unnecessary to me.”

The more I continue to read statements similar to this, the more it gets under my skin. We work and play in an industry that is built on progression and personal learning. A List Apart has not released their 2011 Survey results yet, but we can see a trend for the past four years (2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 (pdf)) that many people (at least half of the respondents, in most cases) say that their education mattered “a little” or “not at all”. For those respondents, a group I include myself in, what that means is that we’ve built our careers on personal learning: scouring the internet for comprehensive examples, following the work of key players, and keeping up with best practices.

To then read fellow developers inferring that we shouldn’t be dedicating at least a portion of ourselves to reading about semantics and applying the concepts to our own work is, frankly, disheartening.

To address the title of this post: Many of us got into this field by our own hard work and self-perserverance. If we want to continue working in a rapidly evolving medium, it’s not just our responsibility but our obligation to stay on the bleeding edge, and that includes keeping in touch with specs and emerging concepts. It is one thing to raise concerns about the inherent value of semantics and quite another thing to disavow learning about them altogether.

We as developers earned the privilege to work in such a dynamic and exciting medium. Let’s do our part to continue moving it forward.